This is a call to action for publishers, editors, and writers alike to think boldly and critically when engaging with social justice movements, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement. Public relations and optics should not be the sole motivation for an ethical operations practice. You might be hoping for an explicit outline of anti-racist strategies in the style of White Fragility––this is not that. The process of unlearning privilege and integrating anti-oppressive ethics into one’s life is messy and cannot be articulated in a how-to format. Committing to being a white accomplice is to subject yourself to discomfort in order to reconcile hundreds of years of complicity.
Publishing, like all areas of industry, has much to aspire to in terms of racial equity. In Portland and the Pacific Northwest specifically, publishing houses must represent the vast, rich histories of the region’s Black and Indigenous writers who have been historically underrepresented in literature while simultaneously pushed out of our cities. Because those who create, engage with, and publish literature are very real people, the industry is rife with the social problems that plague our greater society. We must share stories about the flooding of Vanport that displaced Black Portlanders in the early twentieth century. We must document the modern and historical narratives of the Indigenous tribes of Oregon whose people lost their lives and their land to white colonizers. Literature provides us a safe space to learn, reflect, and evolve. We cannot do this without amplifying the voices of Black and Indigenous communities in all forms of media.
The current uprising and weeks of protests make one thing apparent: “business as usual” has never been a justification for inaction. Posturing through performative allyship (posting a black box) or demanding emotional labor from the Black community during times of mourning reifies the misconception that it is the onus of Black folks to tell us how to do better. If publishers are only concerned with their viewership as it correlates to generating income, the consumer should and will hold them accountable. During a global pandemic, when we are all relying on social media to provide us with factual information (when news conglomerates continue to fail us all), we are navigating through an exponential amount of noise. As of this current socio-political moment in American history, brands and businesses need to take pause.
What I can offer you is a starting point. Throw everything away. Reimagine your mission, broaden your scope, hire Black staff and Black contributors. Don’t circulate redundant narratives of the white experience. Commit to doing more than a sensitivity read and if a manuscript reeks of an oppressive voice, leave it in the slush pile. Sometimes we have more questions than answers. I urge you to begin with Audre Lorde’s Questionnaire to Oneself, then push further. What have you, as a representative of your writing community, done differently in the last thirty, forty days? If you could quantify your anti-racist labor, could you sustain this work for a year? The rest of your life? Are you actually reading the resources and texts that you’re recommending? Have you budgeted your future earnings for reparations? Do you understand the necessity of abolition? Are you listening?